Question: While in Greece you said that Russian-Greek relations were moving into a new phase. Does that new phase include politics, geopolitics, trade and economic relations?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. Today it is becoming clear to many, to practically everyone in the world and in the united Europe that the ideological clichés of the past, thank God, are gone forever, and nothing prevents us from developing relations in terms of our geopolitical interests. Russia and Greece share many interests. These include not only Southern Europe, but also global issues. I have already mentioned the areas of interaction that are of primary interest to us, but they are not limited to the range of issues I have outlined. We can cooperate quite effectively in other fields, especially on infrastructure projects. We can effectively work with our partners and neighbours. I am referring above all to the countries in the region. We know about large-scale projects between Russia and Turkey, for example. I don’t see why we should not attain the same level of interaction with Greece in the sphere of energy. But, I repeat, the series of agreements signed yesterday identifies the possible areas of our cooperation. I repeat, they are not confined to energy issues.
Today the Prime Minister and I also discussed further interaction in the world arena. There is very close cooperation between our foreign ministries. We attach great significance to the activities of the intergovernmental commission, which is developing a series of projects; today, for example, we touched upon cooperation in the sphere of the environment. The Prime Minister agreed with me and we discussed not only environmental monitoring of our joint projects, but also joint work on the ecology of the Black and Azov seas. In general, cooperation in the Black Sea can be very promising, and that is another area of our interaction.
Question: I would like to ask Mr Putin about the series of meetings he is scheduled to have tonight with prominent Greek businessmen. Can he say what specifically he expects from these meetings? I would like to ask Mr. Simitis to comment on yesterday’s statements about the greater participation of Russian companies in Greek arms procurement programs.
Vladimir Putin: You know that at this stage of our cooperation direct contacts between economic agents, market agents are becoming ever more important. I should note that some Russian companies feel very confident in Europe. You probably know that they are ready to take part in the liberalization of the Greek economy, notably in the energy sphere; they are ready to take part in major investment projects in this sphere. We very much hope that Greek companies will respond to the high level of relations emerging between our countries. As my colleague has just noted, we do not consider the level of trade to be high enough. It is just 1.2–1.3 billion dollars. And the level of investment by Greek companies in the Russian market is still lower. It is almost zero. We see at least two avenues of development in this connection: one is cooperation here in Greece between our companies and your leading businessmen and the other is their direct involvement in the development of some investment projects in the Russian Federation. All this is of mutual interest to us. And I hope that the meeting with your leading businessmen will not be a token event and will lead to concrete agreements.
Question: One can see even from the composition of the Russian delegation that the problems of the fuel and energy sector loom large in these talks, as you have already indicated. Could you speak about the results of the talks in some more detail?
Vladimir Putin: You know, we have discussed very many issues connected with various areas of our cooperation. One is cooperation in the gas sphere: the building of additional pipelines, including on Greek territory, and the participation of our companies in building gas distribution networks. One interesting project, as I told the Prime Minister today, could be joint construction of underground gas storage facilities. I must tell you that the implementation of that project would do much to stabilize the Greek economy. In addition, Greece could become an important element in the energy system of the whole of Europe. We have discussed the possible construction of additional gas pipelines via Greece to other countries, including Albania. That too is a feature of Greece as a country that is integrated into the common energy programs of the European community.
We have discussed the possibilities of building new oil pipelines and various aspects of that problem. We have discussed the possible participation of Russian companies in the building and continuation of some projects and participation of our companies in new projects in the energy field for domestic Greek consumption and for supplies to third countries. In short, it is a whole range of issues that are not linked solely with the supply of hydrocarbons. It is a major comprehensive program that may be part of the overall program of energy cooperation between the Russian Federation and the European Union.
Question: A question for President Putin. The meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels yesterday agreed to postpone the start of the work of the NATO-Russia Council and consequently the decision on what would amount to Russia’s full membership of NATO. Could you comment on that, Mr President, considering that in the wake of September 11, for the first time in Russian history, American armed forces have been deployed in Central Asia, previously Russia’s “haven.”
Vladimir Putin: You know, we have decided to take an active part in the international counter-terrorist operation not in order to gain any privileges, advantages or preferences in dealing with our partners. But of course, one cannot fail to notice that the very fact of our participation, as you have rightly pointed out, brings de facto qualitative changes to Russia’s relations with its partners, including the NATO countries. Russia, as I have repeatedly said, is not knocking on NATO’s doors. And it is not planning or seeking to become a fully-fledged member of the alliance. However, it is obvious that some issues, especially in the security field, can be dealt with much more effectively if Russia is directly involved. Our current participation in the counter-terrorist operation is the best proof of that. We believe that there is a large set of issues, in the resolution of which Russia’s voice must be taken into account from the beginning, from the time the issues are discussed, before decisions are made. Thus, we agree with the opinion of the British Prime Minister Mr Blair who has come up with an initiative to set up a special body that would solve issues “at twenty”, that is, not through the mechanism used up until now when 19 NATO members first got together to work out a decision and then presented it to Russia. A body must be set up in which Russia could be a fully-fledged participant on concrete issues. The mechanism of the “twenty” needs to be worked out. We don’t believe that the process should be artificially sped up. We are not in a hurry, we are ready to pursue that work calmly, in working mode, in the trusting and friendly atmosphere that has prevailed in our relations with our partners, including the members of the Alliance. I don’t think we should skip any stages. If anyone has any doubts, these doubts can be removed during the negotiating process. In other words, the decision must be made consciously by all those who take part in preparing and adopting it.